By Marilyn Lester
What a great title for a cabaret: I Can’t Trace Time. It’s intriguing. There’s a fascination there that sparks curious interest. It also happens to be a line in the third song of the set, David Bowie’s “Changes” (sung as a quiet duet with piano man Jude Obermüller) – itself an enigmatic contemplation of an individual’s relationship to self and time. Less mystifying but equally compelling were Andrea Wolff’s own reflections on her life from young adulthood to the threshold of becoming a grandmother (beautifully acknowledged in song with Mavina Reynolds’ “Turn Around/Jenny Rebecca”). Wolff doesn’t disappoint. Her new show is smart, modern and terrifically engaging. And wisely, she lets the music tell the story, with a modicum of connective narrative that’s warm and true.
Youth is certainly announced from the outset, with Wolff flying onto the stage to a big brash arrangement of Stephan Schwartz’s “Spark of Creation.” The mics were hot and the five-piece band was pumping. Wolff herself can’t help but project youth. She’s pixie-sized, small and delicate, with a power-packed energy level and robust vocal range. With her second number, “Dancing in the Moonlight” (Sherman Kelly) the mood was innocently sweet. But the arc of life, as we well know, brings hard times too. And here is Wolff’s strong suit – the ability to curate a show with emotional precision. Her material can come from any genre, be it popular, classic, rock or musical theater. What the choices have in common is the specific stories they tell and Wolff’s skill in interpreting those lyrics; she gets to the core and tells the story with creative musical choices. Wolff’s comedic turn on “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Gerry Goffin/Carole King/Jeff Lynne), for example, was a raucus fearless girl statement about negativity.
Wolff has been performing at a high level since her mid teens (she was in the original Broadway production of Hello Dolly! with Carol Channing). She’s show-biz in the best possible way. Her shows are polished and set out to shine. In I Can’t Trace Time, though, the sheen was perhaps too bright at times, specifically relating to over-produced sound – possibly great for a stadium, but not for a cabaret room. The terrific band, Georgia Weber on bass, Doug Hinrichs on percussion and Megan Talay on guitar were enhanced by the mellow sounds of strings: Rob Thomas on violin and Maureen Kelly on cello. What a great combination. But with music director and pianist Jude Obermüller rounding out the quintet, the sound balance often interfered with the intimacy of Wolff’s delivery – a shame considering the often unique arrangements created by Obermüller. Fortunately, not all numbers were over-teched, such as Wolff’s tender rendition of “Up” (John Carney/Gary Clark/Graham Henderson/Carl Papenfus/Ken Papenfus/Zamo Riffman), sung to her husband of 34 years, who sat at a ringside table.
But problematic sound mixing did no favors for the two numbers performed with virtuoso guitarist, Sean Harkness. Stevie Nicks’ delicate “Landslide” with the lovely lyric “can I handle the seasons of my life?” was robbed of proper finesse. The finale, with Harkness, of Edie Brickell’s “The Wheel” fared better, with the guitarist’s remarkable artistry better served. In any case, this joyous ending tied the ribbon on a beautifully wrapped package.
Direction, including charming bits of business to add that show biz touch, was by MAC and Bistro Award winning writer-actor, Dan Ruth.
Photo by Gen Nishino
I Can’t Trace Time, on Sunday, October 7, 2018, played at The Green Room 42, on the fourth floor of YOTEL NYC, Tenth Avenue between 42nd and 41st Streets. www.onfournyc.com